MILWAUKEE — When Marwin Gonzalez stepped up to the plate to face Milwaukee Brewers closer Josh Hader in the eighth inning of Tuesday’s game, he wanted to be aggressive so as not to fall behind. The Minnesota Twins were down 5-4 with two men on base, and they needed this win to stay ahead of the Cleveland Indians to win the AL Central.
He swung at the first pitch Hader threw and deposited it into the Brewers’ bullpen in left field.
“I was ready to swing at the first pitch,” he said. “He’s one of the best in the game and you cannot give him an easy strike. It was great to swing at the first pitch and luckily it was where I wanted it.”
While he’s kept up with the Bombas, he hasn’t had a breakout year offensively like Max Kepler, Byron Buxton or Jorge Polanco has. In fact, his .256/.320/.416 line is similar to his career slash (.263/.318/.418), and his 14 home runs this season project out to be only a few more than his 162-game average (16).
It’s more that he’s delivered when they need him to.
Gonzalez had a home run in Minnesota’s lone win against Cleveland over the weekend, and hit a double off of Tribe closer Brad Hand that tied the game up before Minnesota lost in the 10th inning.
Every time he’s had a big hit, he’s downplayed the impact of it.
“I was just trying to get a hard contact,” he said after homering off Adam Plutko in the 4-1 win, “put a good swing to the middle of the field.”
After doubling off Hand, he said he was just fighting to keep the at-bat alive.
“I just reacted,” he said. “I was trying to put the ball in play and not to strike out, and give a chance for [Jonathan] Schoop, the next batter, to do something too. I was lucky enough to get a double and tie the game.”
Rocco Baldelli says it’s not an act. That’s just how he is in big situations.
“You don’t see very much from him,” says Baldelli. “It’s almost like the more meaningful or emotional or the bigger the moment, kind of the more kind of expressionless he gets or emotionless he gets. But it probably — I think he focuses very well and he’s able to handle those moments with ease.”
He’s not only making an impact with his bat. When Miguel Sano was out, he played third base. With Buxton working to come back from his shoulder injury, he’s played right field while Kepler moves over to center field. And he can also play the middle infield in a pinch, if necessary.
“That’s a talent, in and of itself. It is something very few guys have,” Baldelli said of Gonzalez’s versatility earlier in the year. “You have to have confidence in your ability. Not just the ability to do it, which is one thing. But the confidence in yourself to bounce around sometimes, even in the same game.
“You can’t get work at every single position every single day or every other day or even on a weekly basis. It is very challenging to stay locked in and to be able to do it. Sometimes it just comes down to does the player have the ability to do it and Marwin obviously can do it. He can do it all.”
Buxton’s defining skill is speed. Sano’s is power. Gonzales’ is to do everything pretty well and not make a big deal about it.